If you can picture a Titanic inspired steampunk railway train, then you will love The Boundless. Kenneth Oppel magically weaves history (Canadian!) and myth together to achieve this spellbinding book.
The Boundless is Cornelius Van Horne’s monumental ode to train travel on the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway, for those who aren’t from here, or for those who slept through grade 9 history…). To set the stage, Oppel takes the reader through the final days of building the cross-Canada railway, including in his story the good, the bad and the ugly. He covers it all: the beautiful scenery, great mechanical accomplishment, poor or no wages, bad food and terrible conditions, the horrible treatment of the Chinese immigrants workers, as well as the celebrated last spike ceremony, with a few poetic liberties taken.
The book is in two stages. Will is 13 years old, traveling from Winnipeg to the Rockies to see his father for the first time in three years. His father, James, worked on the railway, helping to build the grand CPR. Through sheer luck, Will gets the opportunity to witness and participate in the Last Spike. In his travels, he meets a disappearing circus girl and the great Mr Van Horne himself, along with other mysterious strangers who will feature prominently in his future. Danger ensues, and James saves Mr. Van Horne’s life, earning his everlasting gratitude and a hefty promotion.
Three years later, Will is back on the railway, in different circumstances. The family lives a wealthy life in Halifax, and is preparing for a move back out west. Mr. Van Horne has passed away, and his body will travel across the country on a final journey, on the inaugurall trip of the greatest train ever built – the Boundless. Nearly 1000 cars long, with first, second, third and colonist class cars, the titanic train is a travelling city. Excitement and adventure and danger abound, along with meeting old acquaintances, both welcomed and not. Will is growing up, and trying to find his own place in the world.
Included in this story are the Canadian myths of the Sasquatch (Big Foot) and the Wendigo (the demonic canabalistic half human wild beast that lives in the mountains and prairies of the west). I always suspected they were real…
As with every book Kenneth Oppel writes, this one is fantastic. The characters are believable, the story is detailed, and Oppel draws the reader right in. It was hard to put down. He writes The Boundless in the first person, which I found a little hard to get used to in the beginning, but once the story was underway, it worked really well. Seeing the whole adventure through Will’s eyes was perfect.
This is a GREAT story for boys of all ages. It has it all: adventure, trains, monsters, myth and mystery, and a little bit of gore. Who hasn’t wanted to run away and join the circus?
The Boundless is published by Harper Trophy Canada.